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How To: Cut a Whole Chicken into Pieces

It' as easy as 1,2...5.
It' as easy as 1,2...5.
Photo by Brooke Viggiano

Sometimes you feel like breasts, sometimes thighs, sometimes just the tip...the wing tip! Get your minds out of the gutter, people - I'm talking about chicken here.

When I'm grocery shopping, I'm always on the hunt for the best quality food with the best deals. And with the rising prices these days, that seems to mean buying a chicken whole (I got it for $.98/lb) and chopping that baby up myself. That way, I can use the breasts for a stuffed roast chicken one night, use the legs and thighs for a stew another, throw the wings in a freezer bag and save up enough for some Sunday Football hot wings, and keep the backbone for use in a delicious homemade stock. I can even save the excess skin and fat to make rendered chicken fat (the holidays are coming up and I'll need some schmaltz for my matzoh balls!).

Once you get the hang of it, butchering a chicken is easy...and fun. Actually, I never realized how much fun it could be; I mean playing with knives is awesome, right? I enjoy it. Anyway, the key here is to get to know your chicken. Usually I give mine a name and talk to it throughout, a little Dexter-like, but to each their own. Sorry if this is the creepiest post ever, but it's Halloween so whatever.

There are a lot of ways to go about cutting up a chicken, but here's how I do it:

Meet Henry.
Meet Henry.
Photo by Brooke Viggiano

Step 1. Prepare the chicken

Remove giblets, rinse chicken inside and out with cold water and pat dry to make it easier to work with. Trim away excess fat at neck and body cavity.

Step 2. Remove the legs and thighs

Place the chicken on its back, with the legs toward you. Begin to slice through the skin that attaches the breast to the thigh, exposing the thigh meat. Pop out the thigh (hip) bone from the socket by bending the leg backward and away from the body. With the thigh bone now exposed, cut around the bone and down, removing the leg and thigh from the rest of the chicken. Repeat with other side.

Step 3. Separate the drumstick from the thigh

Place leg skin side down on the surface. Hold the drumstick like you are shaking the chicken's hand (or foot I guess). Locate the joint connecting the drumstick to the thigh by moving the thigh back and forth. You should also see a natural fatty line where the joint is. Cut through the joint completely. Repeat with other side.

Step 4. Remove the wings

Place the chicken on its side and pull the wing out from the body. Slice skin and twist the wing to locate the connecting joint. Make a diagonal cut through the shoulder joint to remove the wing. Repeat with other side.

Step 5. Remove back bone

Place chicken skin side down to remove the breast from the back. Using a sharp knife or pair of kitchen shears, work from the tail to the neck, cutting down either side of the collarbone and through the small rib bones. Rotate the bird and repeat on other side of the collarbone, pulling the breasts away from the bone. Save the backbone for use in stock.

Step 5. Split the breasts

Straighten out skin over breasts before placing chicken skin side down on cutting board with the tip of the breasts facing away from you. You will see a whitish, translucent piece of cartilage lying directly over the breastbone. Place the blade on this piece and firmly tap down on the dull side of the knife to split the breasts into two portions. (You can split the breasts into smaller portions by cutting each piece in half again).

And that's it; you're a butcher in the making. Don't forget to wash your hands, use a sharp knife, and get to know your chicken. Have fun!



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